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Getting Things Done (GTD) defines a "project" as anything that will take more than one action to be considered complete. "Next action" items, with a specific context, are kept handy so that when an appropriate context is present it can be done.

Many next-actions are tied to projects but I have problems trying to tie them together, and it becomes a problem across my projects. I have moved from a Palm PDA to an iPod Touch and in both cases, without using specific GTD software, find an issue in trying to link together the next-actions and the projects.

I am using Evernote to capture of all items and have to keep separate notes for each next-action item and then a large note for the overall project.

I have yet to find a way to tie things back to other items. Does anyone else who practices the GTD system have any insight into how I could address this without having to buy specific GTD software (which from what I've seen is always kind of a kludge anyway), and ideally inside of Evernote?

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Have you looked a www.thesecretweapon.org. They have a system for using Evernote for GTD. I tried it at one point and liked it. I I think it might help with your issue. –  Tortilaman Dec 29 '12 at 9:13
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9 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Personally, the weekly review is what brings all that together. Realistically, you are not going to work on every next action in one week.

So just have a list of what next actions you are going to work on and the context in which you will do them. Then at your next weekly review, sort back those actions you completed to the projects they were for.

Dedicated GTD software (or at least a time management kind of app) will help, but you still need to do the weekly review to check your next actions per project.

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I would agree with this, and this also seems to be the official DAC stance on the matter. In webinar after webinar, David, Kelli, and everyone else will always repeat that maxim: the Weekly Review is the key. –  David Antaramian Jun 22 '11 at 20:50
I suppose that's the missing piece for me - I'm great at collecting, and processing, but I get into the weeds when it comes time to organize, being a very detail-oriented individual. The reviews are not as consistent as they should be and things get ahead of me. Rather than trying to come up with something that is "correct" from the point of view of data consistency (i.e., next-action items pointing back to their parent project) maybe I need to concentrate on working the system more as Mr. Allen suggests. Thanks! –  Todd Williamson Jun 23 '11 at 2:15
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So we start on the same page, next actions should be grouped by context, not project: @office versus European vacation.

If you're having trouble remembering what project a given action is associated with (although I would think in most cases it would be obvious), then include the project title in the task description. For example: Europe vaca: email Mika arrival time in Berlin. This is a simple, low-overhead way to associate actions with projects, and if you use an electronic tool (e.g. Evernote or Remember the Milk) you can wildcard search to find all tasks associated with the project. (Tags can work as well, but I find typing into the task title is quicker than utilizing a separate tag mechanic, and something that's fast is something you'll actually do.

Separately, you should have information for your projects; at a minimum this should include reference/research material and a list of future tasks that aren't in context lists because they aren't yet actionable. For example, you can't call Mika until you've booked your flights.

When you complete a task associated with a given project, quickly pop into your project file, scan the list for future tasks that are now actionable, and place them in the correct context list. If you have a project with no actions then it's done (yea!) or you need to spend some time deciding what remains. If it can wait for your weekly review, great; if not, then what needs to go on your context list is Europe vaca: determine next action(s).

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I think that this answer also gets at what I'm thinking about. I'd like to be able to see all my information at once, in one spot, tied together by tags but also by direct relationships (items being able to point to "parent" items). So many of my projects have large titles so that I've created a separate folder just to hold the names of them. I suppose I need to just prune them entirely, both in number and in title length. –  Todd Williamson Jun 23 '11 at 2:19
Yes, I think that would work. The project title you use in your task names can be a shorthand, perhaps even an acronym. The key is that it's unambiguous and means something to you without requiring a decoder ring. Just remember the more complicated your system the more time you'll spend fiddling with the taxonomy and the less time you'll spend executing tasks. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 23 '11 at 3:11
You could also standardize the action verbs used in task titles and rely on them instead of context tags. (As in call someone instead of call someone @phone.) That makes it feasible to group next actions by project instead. You can still find tasks by context by searching or scanning for the action verbs. –  Lauri Ranta Jul 22 '11 at 22:31
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I agree that the weekly review is a good place to tie things together but in many cases I can accomplish several steps of a project between each review, if I just remember them.

What I have found useful for this is the Cascading Next Actions described here. Basically, it is just tacking on a "in order to…" or similar phrase to the end of your Next Action, to remind yourself of what the overall goal is, and what you need to do next, thereby making it almost automatic to add the next step to your Next Actions.

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Yes, this was kind of what I was thinking about, wanting to be able to have a linkage of what's next, what's dependent, etc. Maybe I spent too much time in MS Project in the past. –  Todd Williamson Jun 23 '11 at 2:16
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I prefer to use tags.

Tags can indicate any number of things:
1. What project(s) the task applies to
2. What the status of it is (I distinguish "Action" from "Next Action")
3. What the priority / context / energy level etc. is for this item

Each item can have many tags and I think most organization systems have tags (I use labels in gmail for example)

For example:

- Item 1 [projects/Project1] [Next Action]
- Item 2 [projects/Project1] [Action]
- Item 3 [projects/Project2] [Action]

If you're lacking tags or are using a strict hierarchical folder structure you could use links or shortcuts instead, imagine:

Root Folder\  
- Everything\  
- - Item 1  
- - Item 2  
- - Item 3  
- Project 1\  
- - Link to Item 1  
- - Link to Item 2
- Project 2\  
- - Link to Item 3
- Next Actions\  
- - Link to Item 1
- Actions\  
- - Link to Item 2
- - Link to Item 3

So here Item 1 lives in some general folder but is linked as being part of "Project 1" and also as being a "Next Action"

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I have tried to set this up in RTM. The way I did it is by making projects as tags. Then, when I create the actions, I add the project tag to it. I then have smart lists that look for tags starting from particular prefix (w1- for work p1- for home) plus NA (Next Action) tag and show them as work or home lists correspondingly.

I already create a description task, also with project tag and also with higher level tag (w2- for 20000 feet). This allows me to review each project and see its description with associated actions, but also review higher level goals and see all projects under that w2- category. I also have Someday/Maybe list items tagged with w2- (not w1-) tags.

This is a new system and I will probably blog about when it proved itself. It is, admittedly, a little burdensome, especially from iPad. But for now, it makes me pause and think whether each action is actually associated with a project or do I need to explicitly mark it non-project work item (@work). Sometimes, this thinking triggers deeper considerations.

It should be possible to setup a similar thing in Evernote, though I don't think it has smart lists to include/exclude specific categories/tags.

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I also use RTM and some of its capabilities makes it easy to effectively manage lists. I use the evernote like app called Catch as an inbox. –  cstamas Jun 22 '11 at 21:14
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I think Evernote supports keywords/tags, so you could organize things that way; e.g., create a tag "marathon" which would apply to your all your related notes (gear to buy, registration details, overall training schedule and goals, etc.)

Or just create a single note for each project with action items in that note; supporting research material could be cross-referenced explicitly using tags or, more manually, by name of the notes in question.

That being said, I greatly prefer to organize my projects using Things for Mac and Things for iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad. They sync across (Apple) platforms, are visually clean, affordable, and very closely matched to the GTD workflow (Areas of responsibility, Projects, next actions, inbox, etc.).

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To clarify, you have one action that relates to multiple projects? Or are you just trying to link actions to projects?

You could use Evernote folders as projects, note title as action title, tags for next-action/someday/delegated/reference/complete. Add and remove tags as things get done, that way it you search for "next-action" tags you get everything that's a current next action. You'll have to create a new note for every action, but there's no limit on creating notes.

I you have one action that relates to multiple projects, I'd put it in both. When you do it, you'll remember to change the status of the other copy. Or it should at least come up during the weekly review.

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I keep my next action list in a spreadsheet with columns for Next Action, Project, Context. That way I can quickly sort or filter the list according to project or context. I think something like Evernote is fine for keeping support and reference material but terrible for making lists because it has no sorting capability.

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+1 spreadsheets are awesome for whipping up a custom solution to a problem –  Matthew Lock Mar 21 '12 at 23:44
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Google, there are many people who have write ups describing how to use Evernote for GTD, usually using either one notebook for it (working on that direction so that it only uses one of my 10 offline notebooks on my phone) or one each for next actions, projects, etc.

Here is the one notebook link: Getting Things Done in Evernote with One Notebook

I'm also using ReQall (well, trying to get in the habit) and from their current developer contest, Zendone looks interesting.

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